Archive for the ‘review Italian wine’ Category

Great Cal-Ital from Gold Rush Country: Sobon Estates

minersWhen I think of California’s Gold Rush Country, up there in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I think of crusty old miners swilling cheap liquor from a jug. I believe they were a hard-drinking lot; not the kind to be enjoying elegant Italian varietals.

So I was knocked out recently when I came across two killer Cal-Itals from Amador County. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Cal-Ital” refers to Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, or Arneis, for example) planted in California soil. It’s like an “Old World meets New World” kind of thing. Cal-Itals can be hard to find if you don’t live in California, so those of us in the hinterland are thrilled to discover good ones.

I just tasted Sobon Estates Amador County Barbera 2010 and Sobon Estates Amador County Sangiovese 2009. They made me want to play the accordion andĀ  sing “When the moon hits-a your eye like-a that big pizza pie…”

Let’s look at the Barbera first. This grape is best known as Barbera d’Alba, produced in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy. There, it makes a medium-bodied red with low tannins, high acidity and cherry/blackberry flavors. Italian immigrants (maybe some of those gold miners?) brought Barbera to northern California, and the grape thrived in the warm, dry climate. They were so happy that the grapes did a little Tarantella!

Second-generation winemaker Paul Sobon does great things with Barbera. He’s created a wine that expresses California opulence with Italian structure and acidity. When I poured this wine, the deep purple/red, almost opaque color suggested a very extracted wine. The nose was compelling with dark berry fruit, cedar, and maybe a hint of chocolate. On the palate, intense black cherry and blackberry led the way, with some spice and tobacco elbowing their way in. Then came the kicker — the bright acidity that shouted “food wine!!”

You have to explain this concept to many Americans. Those who grew up drinking wine like a cocktail — i.e. without any food to accompany it — aren’t used to the acidity that makes European wines so great with food, and food so great with European wines. You have to force these people to grab a piece of cheese, or anything with a red sauce, and enjoy it alongside their wine. Then they have the OMG moment…

So speaking of OMG moments, let’s go to Paul Sobon’s Amador County Sangiovese. This is the grape that made Chianti famous, and you may know that Chianti is a region in Tuscany, Italy. Chianti’s reds can range from bright and fruity to bold and full-bodied, but they always have good acidity.

I opened Paul’s wine with a plate of Chicken Parmesan, and I had my own OMG moment. This Cal-Ital is more fun and fruity than the Barbera, with a bunch of soft cherry/berry fruit, spice notes and mocha adding complexity. There was a surprising richness and velvety mouth-feel — but then again, I was enjoying this with the kind of food that could tame the classic acidity. The tasting notes revealed that the winemaker added a dollop of Zinfandel and a pinch of Petite Sirah, which added more “Cal” to the Cal-Ital.

All Sobon wines are produced from sustainably farmed grapes, and the winery uses solar generated power, composting, natural pest control and other sustainable practices. That’s good — I like to be able to recommend a wine that’s environmentally friendly, as well as darn good. Cheers!



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“Moscato Madness?” or Cheap and Nasty California Sweet Wine

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The Wine Lady: Great Wine With Take-out Food

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Dan Berger Hasn’t Really Discovered Sweet Muscat Wine

moscatoWe’ve been selling Moscato for years. We sell it to all those folks who don’t like dry wines, and there are many of those. Usually they’re at the beginning of the wine learning curve, and after drinking sweet stuff for a while, they decide they want to try less-sweet stuff.

So let’s link to Dan Berger’s article in the that claims that Barefoot Cellars has done wine drinkers a favor by producing a California “Muscat” at around $7. I’ve talked to many people who’ve tasted this wine, and let me be clear: it’s not good wine. My sweet-loving customers have told me it tastes like lighter fluid compared to good Italian or California Moscatos. It may be the same grape, or a derivative of it, but whatever they do to it at the Gallo wine factory takes all the wonderful flavor out of it.

The best Moscato’s are the ones from Italy, because that’s where the grape originated. In Italy’s Asti region, they make wonderful wines from the Moscato grape: they’re sweet, but not with added sugar, and have some natural spritz and nice acid on the finish to keep them from being cloying. The ItaliansĀ  manage the fermentation process so that fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is consumed, which means there’s a lower level of alcohol but luscious natural sweet, peachy flavors. Some people drink them as table wines and some as dessert wines: either way, they are the best affordable sweet wines on the market (priced in the low to high $teens).

There are also some very good California Moscatos that have been around for some time. St. Supery makes one in the high $teens and Martin & Weyrich Moscato Allegro is in the low $teens (this was one of our best-selling wines more than 10 years ago). And if price is the object, you can buy a good quality Australian Moscato from Banrock Station for about the price of the Barefoot.

I don’t want anyone, including Dan Berger, to drink bad Moscato. In fact, I’d be happy to send him a bottle of really good Moscato. Once he’s tried it, he’ll understand…





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Rocche Costamagna Dolcetto d’Alba: In the Italian Tradition

roccheTradition is important. It means commitment, stability and pride.

And longevity is as important in the wine business as in any other: if a winery is still in business after a century or more, it says that they must be doing something right.

The folks at Rocche Costamagna are doing many things right. This venerable winery has been making wine in Italy’s Piedmont hills since 1841, continuously managed by descendants of founder Luigi Costamagna.

The Piedmont region sits at the base of the mountains in Northwest Italy and is best known for its big reds, Barolo and Barbaresco. They’re made from the Nebbiolo grape, which produces big, bold, tannic wines that’ll age for years and years.

The Alba region, nestled in the center of Piedmont, also produces a grape called Dolcetto, which makes a dry red wine that’s lighter-bodied and lower in tannin than its big cousin. At first I was puzzled by the name of this grape: even with my very elementary understanding of Italian, I know that “Dolce” means sweet. “Dolcetto” literally translated means “little sweet one.” But Alfred, my Italian wine broker, set me straight. “Don’t be literal,” he said. Think of this word as meaning “little young one,” because the Dolcetto grapes are the first picked at harvest time. Oh, now I get it… Read the rest of this entry »

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Live To Eat: Pairing Pasta with Great Wines

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Taste Sunny Southern Italy: Arancio Grillo Wine

italyIn Italy, wine is life. Period.

Wine is part of every meal, and every meal in Italy is a special occasion. Italians live to eat, not eat to live, and wine is as much a “food” as pasta.

So in every region of the country, from cool Friuli in the shadow of the Alps to balmy Sicily basking on the Mediterranean, the locals make their own wine from the grapes that grow in their neighborhood. If Italians aren’t drinking what they’ve made themselves, they’re buying it by the jug, poured from a barrel in the wine shop in the local market.

Sounds like wine heaven, doesn’t it?

Back here in the United States, most of us eat to live, and consume a ridiculous percentage of our meals behind the wheel of our car, rushing from one Must Do to another Have To Go To. When we drink Italian wines, we usually stick to two varieties:

- Chianti for a red (served up in the straw basket that later passes as a candle holder for every generation of poor college students);

- and Pinot Grigio for a white, which too often tastes like lemon water. Read the rest of this entry »

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